Picks and Pans Review: Gandhi

updated 12/13/1982 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/13/1982 01:00AM

Director Richard Attenborough spent $22 million and 22 weeks slogging across the Indian subcontinent; he enlisted hundreds of thousands of extras to pull together this three-and-a-half-hour biography of India's spiritual-political leader and prophet of peaceful resistance. The results are more than worth the elephantine effort: Gandhi is this decade's Lawrence of Arabia, a visually magnificent, historically sweeping film that succeeds in capturing the humanity of its magnetic central figure. Half-Indian British stage actor Ben Kingsley, hitherto unknown in America, plays the Mahatma. And he manages to fill the role with humor, passion and conviction in a series of tableaux spanning 55 years, from Gandhi's arrival as a young London-educated lawyer in South Africa, where he's rapidly transformed from popinjay to politico by anti-Indian prejudice, to his 1948 assassination by a Hindu fanatic in New Delhi at age 79. Brutal and beautiful images convey the efforts of the man whose otherworldly guise belied his political genius for rousing Indian masses to civil disobedience against British rule. John Gielgud and South African playwright Athol Fugard have brief but strong moments as two of Gandhi's colonial opponents, while Rohini Hattangadhi is moving and tender as his devoted wife, Kasturbai. Less memorably, Martin Sheen finds himself stuck in the cardboard part of a New York Times correspondent, Candice Bergen comes across as a bit stiff in the role of Life photographer Margaret Bourke-White, and Ian (Chariots of Fire) Charleson turns his eyes heavenward again as an insipidly pious priest who doesn't have any function other than to counterbalance all the British villains on the landscape. Above all, Kingsley's astonishing performance, capturing both Gandhi's divine light and his irresistible simplicity, inspires this ambitious film. (PG)

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